Given various options in Marketing, Sales would perhaps be the last choice by any MBA graduate. Apart from other profiles of Marketing like Advertising, Product Development, Branding etc., Sales is something which can be easily measured. The efforts you have put in every case will go flying in thin air, if, at the end of the month/quarter/year you have underachieved your target. Hence, Sales is a challenging, yet dreadful career for many. On one side of the spectrum there is always a sword hanging over one's head, and on the other, there are mouth-watering incentives in cash and kind.
Having spent more than 2 years in Sales and currently specializing in Marketing stream in my PGDM course, I am sure, I own some authority to share a few tips on Sales. These are purely based on my experiences and could work depending on the situation. There is no thumb-rule in Sales but some generally accepted and followed principles are as follows.
1. Let Sales not be a one-time process
Very often we make a mistake of forgetting our customers once the Sales cycle is completed. It is a CRIME and against 'Sales ethics'. Whatever may have been your experience with the customers, never forget them. There might have been issues like delay in payment by the customer, delay in delivery of the goods by you leading to conflicts, service issues, escalation by the customer to your higher authorities - the list can only go on. But be courteous enough to remember them. A visit to their place regularly, a courtesy call or an e-mail, sending pleasantries during festivals, New Year will always keep you and your organization on 'Top of the Mind', thereby increasing your 'recall value'. The more you isolate yourself from a customer, stronger will be the competitors' rapport with them.
2. Spend time with your (prospective) customer
A vendor-customer relation is like any other relation. The more time you spend with the customer, stronger will be the bonding. You might not be entertained at your prospective customer's place, you might get an appointment for only 5 minutes but no tea might be served to you, you might not get any business from the prospect in your first few attempts. But there is nothing to get disheartened. Remember, it all started with a simple "Hi" to a girl and today she is your girl-friend. You might have asked "How about a coffee this evening?" hesitatingly to her and today she pesters you every weekend for shopping and lunch. It's the same with customers. Once the relationship is built, you are a welcome guest at their office without any appointment. Your customer will then trust you, you enjoy a high credible status with your customer.
3. Be a 'Consultant' than a 'Salesman'
Be that to a customer what doctor is to a patient. Do we ever dispute a doctor's claim? Never!! Whenever the customer is need of something for his organization, may you be the first one to be called. Let him share his dilemma with you first. Let him seek the solution to his worries from you. You give him the appropriate solution. Let consultation with other vendors be a hogwash. In short, be a consultant and not one of the many salesmen. But for this to suffice, the above two needs to be followed. Do you trust your close friend or one of the many friends whom you came across in school, society parties, social networking sites etc.? Be that 'close friend' to your customer. He will then trust you blindly!
4. Promise less and deliver more
Always promise only 80% of your ability to the customer. Certain contingencies might sometimes hamper you from delivering fully to the customer as promised. But deliver 100% of your capability. That way you have over-delivered which will create a better image about you in the minds of your customer.
5. Customer is your best friend at times of crisis
Often, the price cleared by your higher-ups and offered to the customer might not be possible to honour due to reasons like increase in the cost of raw materials, change in the statutory regulations, dynamic economic environment etc. In these cases, chances are high that you will end up in a conflict with your customer. But nothing to worry. It is not the end of the world. Just make it to your customer's office or call him up and inform him of the situation. His instant reaction would be a yell on you or a disappointment, which is natural for anyone to react so. But once he calms down, sit with him and explain him the entire episode. Point out the reasons for your inability to honour his order at a pre-ordained price. Depending on your relationship, chances are ripe that he will pay the extra buck to get the order honoured or will not mind receiving the shipment late. In worst case, he might cancel the order and re-place it on another vendor. In cay case, you need not get disappointed. You have dealt transparently and things beyond your control are (mis)fortuitous which can happen with anyone. Your higher authorities know you have put the efforts in that case. You also have the satisfaction of being honest in your dealings and approach.
6. Never start your meeting by speaking 'business' directly
You don't have to be too formal when you meet a customer. Never start speaking the issue/reason for which you have come, straightaway. Instead, settle down first. Greet him and speak highly about his organization. Congratulate him on his organization winning the best employer award or on having a beautiful campus. Speak highly of his Chairman/MD/President/CEO if they are someone like a Narayana Murthy or a Azim Premji or a Vijay Mallya. Your customer will always feel proud. As salesmen, that's what we have to do - massage our customers' ego! We do not lose anything doing that, right? However, do not make the initial talks too personal. Never make the blunder of speaking to your customer about his shirt, hairstyle, resemblance to well know personalities etc. It will put him in a spot of bother, he has never given you that space, especially when it is a first time meet!
7. Never depend on one person in any account (account means an organization)
In an organization, it is never a one-man-show when it comes to decision making. There will be multiple people coming together, though the degree of influence each one has on the final decision making authority may vary. Try to get as many 'decision influencers' as possible in confidence. Finance Head is a strict YES-YES and also the final decision-maker's PA/Secretary/close aid et al. Being in regular contact with the Purchase Dept. Head is always better since you have a high chance of being very early into a case (i.e. whenever the customer has a requirement) But remember to keep some things within you. Never disclose to the Purchase Dept. Head that you know their budget (which you might have got to know from the Finance Head) It will lead to conflicts internally and you stand at a risk of losing a vital information provider.
8. Some basic etiquette
Be formally dressed whenever you make it to a customer place. Give and receive visiting cards with both hands and strictly not one. Ensure your cell phones are on a silent mode or better if switched off if you are meeting a senior person. Speak softly when you are within your customer's campus. Comply to all requisites like a security check, parking your vehicle at the appropriate parking place, removing your footwear outside the cabin of your customer (if mentioned, happens in a few PSUs) Carry a notepad and a pen (that writes) always. Never make a mistake of asking pen from the customer. It is a very embarrassing situation. Never write anything on or behind the visiting card of your customer. I know of an incident where a customer felt offended when a sales person wrote something behind the customer's visiting card and the customer actually took it back! Pay attention to details. Listen carefully and never cut your customer short, very often, we in a hurry to convey things, barge in before the customer finishes speaking. Always wear your ID card while meeting the customer. Be polite even to the peon or a janitor at your customer's place. You never know who will give you vital information. Finally, remember, whatever you do, it does not earn a bad repute to you as well your organization. You are the face of your organization and any undesirable act by you is a bad mark on you as well as your organization. This could even lead to escalation to your higher-ups and put you in soup.
I guess this is sufficient for now. Hopefully I have covered enough points. I am sure these are not an uphill task to follow. Just need to make a conscious effort initially and then it will run in your DNA. All the best for your sales career :-)